Posts tagged ‘Buckingham Palace’

London Recommendations

I love London and spent weeks there as a teenager enjoying all the museums.  I took my kids there for the first time (they are 9 and 12) and after a week of touring around, here are some impressions:

Worth It
London Eye - Awesome!  Stunning views from what is essentially a 400 foot Ferris wheel with enclosed cars.  Make sure to make a reservation in advance to save time
Science Museum - Great interactive area for kids in the basement.  Fabulous exhibits - I liked Babbage's difference engine in particular.  And its free
Somerset House - The best museum you never heard of -- fabulous collection of Impressionist paintings that I thought was better than the national gallery, and, in another area, a wonderful collection of the most amazing stone mosaic work you will ever see
Theater - my kids love Broadway shows.  We saw the musicals Mary Poppins and Mamma Mia and the play Mousetrap and all three were great, though expensive.  There is a TKTS office in Leicester Square that sells same day discounted tickets.
Imperial War Museum - Tanks and Missiles, what more could you want?  The collection is huge, and most kids will tire of the uniforms and such, but its free and worth a quick visit.
St. Pauls:  Just spectacular.  The downside is that the admission is expensive, but I found it worth it just to stand under the dome in awe.
Cabinet war rooms: The underground chamber used as a senior command post in WWII, it sits (with papers, maps and all) just as it was in the final days of WWII.
Tower of London: Great, even before you see the jewels.  However, take the beefeater tour.  It is free and you will miss 90% of the experience without it.
Harrods:  My kids loved seeing this unique store, particularly the food courts
Hamlys:  6 floors of toys.  Say no more.
Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle, Hampton Court. Day trips to the latter two are recommended, particularly to Windsor Castle.  Buckingham Palace is only open for tours a few months of the year, so we missed it, but I toured it a few years ago when they opened it after the Windsor Castle fire and it is beyond amazing.

Maybe / Maybe Not
British Museum - I love it.  This may be the greatest museum of archaeological finds in the world.  However kids, after some initial enthusiasm for the mummies, tire quickly.  Its just so big
Museum of London.  Again, I loved it.  My wife and kids were bored.  If you are the type that likes to read all the little cards in museums, this one is a great history lesson.  If you like to breeze through and look at the cool stuff, there is not as much here for you.
Westminster Abby - If you go, take the tour.  Its expensive, but it is not as architecturally interesting as St. Paul's.  The interesting stuff is in the history of the tombs and who is buried there, and there are very few signs explaining what you are seeing, so you will miss most of it without a tour.
Tate Modern - We did not go to this relatively new museum but friends of ours took their young kids and said it was great
Double Decker Bus Tour:  There are two major companies that operate these, and you get a day pass so that you can get on and off the bus all day.  The tour was pretty good, but we found by the end of the week it mostly covered ground we retraced later in the week on our own.
Royal Mews: The Queen's  stables and  carriages.  This was OK, but not great.

Not worth it
Madame Tussuad's:  Expensive, ridiculously crowded, and pretty short (we took our time and were done in about 30 minutes).  If you go, make a reservation in advance or you will be stuck in a very very long admission line.  My kids thought is was OK, if only to have a picture of themselves with James Bond and Saddam Hussein
Natural History Museum:  Despite its incredibly rich history, we found this museum disappointing.  The entry is beautiful, and the museum is free, so its worth just checking out briefly.  We, however, found the layout to be awkward and not very interesting.  The post-renovation natural history museum in New York I think is both more entertaining and laid out better to really teach you something about nature and evolution.
National Gallery: I have given this museum several chances, and I find it disappointing every time I go.  It doesn't stand up in my mind to galleries in other cities like Paris, NY or even Chicago.  Its free, but I don't think it will satisfy either art lover or non art lover.  Go to Somerset House instead.
The underground:  Wow, has the tube gotten expensive!  Three pounds per person one way.  This meant for our group, it was less expensive to take a taxi.  We tried to walk as much as possible, took taxis when we could go no further, and took the tube only once or twice.  The tube may work better financially if you buy a weekly pass - we did not look into this.
Hot Weather:  It was in the high 80's and low 90's when we were there.  Note that much of London is not air conditioned and the rest is inadequately air conditioned.  We roasted in the museums and in the theaters.  If it is hot, get used to hot, uncirculated air in crowded places.

We found a pretty good hotel for families called the Ascot-Mayfair.  It has a great location near Hyde Park Corner and has multi-room suites for decent rates (at least for London).  The one bedroom suite has a sofa bed in the living room that will sleep the kids and get them out of the parents room.  We splurged on the 2 bedroom suite, and got it for a rate less than the tiny one room place we had in Paris last summer.

I posted earlier about the strange bias against kids out in the English countryside.  We saw little of this in London.  A few hotels would not let us rent rooms if we had children, but otherwise no problems.  Restaurants were all very accommodating, many with children's menus (which is a big change over a decade ago).  Also, restaurants and shows are quite informal so that we had a lot of nice dinners without taking any really nice clothes.  For restaurants, we particularly liked Ping Pong (Trendy Chinese dim sum), Yauatcha (also trendy chinese dim sum) and Lucio (Italian).

Happy Fourth of July

Happy Birthday to the greatestn nation on earth.  I spend a lot of time criticizing our leaders and their policies, but there is no place else I would live.  The US Constitution is still, over two-hundred years after its creation, the greatest single document ever written.  Many other countries since have written constitutions and spilled tons of ink pontificating on theories of government, but none have had similar success in protecting individual rights while creating an environment where every individual can focus their productive energies in whatever direction they choose with generally minimal interference.

A while back I wrote about how wealth was created, and I pointed out that the great leaps we have made in human well-being over the last two hundred or so years stem from two effects:

  1. There was a philosophical and intellectual
    change where questioning established beliefs and social patterns went
    from being heresy and unthinkable to being acceptable, and even in
    vogue.  In other words, men, at first just the elite but soon everyone,
    were urged to use their mind rather than just relying on established
  2. There were social and political changes that greatly increased
    the number of people capable of entrepreneurship.  Before this time,
    the vast vast majority of people were locked into social positions that
    allowed them no flexibility to act on a good idea, even if they had
    one.  By starting to create a large and free middle class, first in the
    Netherlands and England and then in the US, more people had the ability
    to use their mind to create new wealth.  Whereas before, perhaps 1% or
    less of any population really had the freedom to truly act on their
    ideas, after 1700 many more people began to have this freedom.
Many revisionist historians struggle to find some alternate explanation for the wealth and power the US enjoys today -- natural resources, isolation, luck, etc.  But the simple and correct explanation is that more than any other country past or present, we created a country where more people are free to use their minds and more freely pursue the implications of their ideas.

Sure, our leaders, our military, and sometimes the nation as a whole screws up.  I and others are quick to point these screw-ups out and sometimes we find ourselves wallowing in them.  But at the end of the day, unlike in the majority of countries in the world, these screw-ups are treated as such, talked about and debated, and dealt with rather than treated as the norm. 

Take the US military in an occupying role in Iraq.  Out of 100,000 or so people, you are going to have some criminals who commit criminal acts, even in the military.  The US army, unlike nearly every occupying army in history, generally treats its soldiers' crimes as crimes, and not as the inherent right of victors to rape and pillage.  US soldiers who have committed crimes in Iraq will generally go to jail, while worse malefactors in most armies, even the holier-than-thou UN peacekeepers who seem to be engaging in rape and white slavery around the world, generally go unpunished.  For all the crap the US military takes around the world, I bet you that if you took an honest vote on the question of "Which world army would you choose to occupy your country if you lost a war" most people would answer the US.  If for no other reason because, despite all the charges of imperialism, our armies eventually leave rather than remain on as lingering masters.

So tomorrow, I will start dealing out more crap to our leaders, to the administration, to Congress, to the SCOTUS, and most especially to most every bureaucrat who thinks they can better manage my business or my property.  But today I will step back and see the forest rather than the trees, and observe I am dang lucky to be an American.

For further thoughts, I refer you to .  They tend to celebrate first the "right to vote", when in fact many people get to vote but few enjoy the freedoms we do.  The greatness of our country is in our protection of individual liberties and the rule of law.  And the great insight our country was founded with is that rights flow from the very fact of our humanity -- they are not granted to us by kings or Congress.  This last is perhaps most important, as I wrote:

At the end of the day, our freedoms in this country will only last so
long as we as a nation continue to hold to the principle that our
rights as individuals are our own, and the government's job is to
protect them, not to ration them.  Without this common belief, all the
other institutions we have discussed, from voting to the rule of law to
the Constitution, can be subverted in time

Now I am off to see Buckingham Palace.  If I see the Queen, would it be in bad taste to wish her a happy Fourth of July?